June 9, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Once upon a time Jay Shoop wanted to be me, and I’ve wondered upon occasion if I might like to be him. We are in some ways similar, although he’s the only one headed into a hall of fame.
I collect stories, and although Shoop long ago abandoned his plan to become a sportswriter, it’s easy to tell that Georgia Tech’s chief athletic trainer is a collector of stories as well.
That’s not nearly all that he assembles.
Under the northeast side of Bobby Dodd Stadium are photos of nearly all the initial teams at Tech; you know, the very first football team, the first women’s basketball team and so on.
Shoop has really old uniforms, too, and old leather helmets, some Civil War pharmaceuticals and field amputation kits w/saws, a picture of the 1983 USFL champion Michigan Panthers for whom he worked, and a small brown jar that’s probably been empty for over 100 years. The label reads, “Dr. Shoop’s Cough Syrup.”
If asked, he’ll produce photos of his myriad trips around world-famous golf courses. The man absolutely loves to play: “It’s my one vice.”
Mostly, James L. Shoop loves life and marking it.
He can show you a few pictures from his recent round at Pebble Beach, but he’s more likely to mention that he and the oldest of his five grandchildren the other day went to a paper airplane event up in Cobb County, and, “we absolutely had a blast.”
There is a common gentle chuckle that reminds that you’re not in the company of a doctor, nor someone who takes himself super seriously. Yet Shoop’s deliberate approach to everything from story telling to his work to his knowledge of the back stories around all that that stuff he has collected . . . all of this and more makes it clear that he’s a man in full.
Shoop does more than wander happy-go-lucky through his days with the hope that each will go well. He makes things right, makes stuff tilt toward good and right.
To combine my word and another suggested by a Tech staff member in advance of Shoop’s induction June 28 into the National Athletic Trainers Association Hall, the man is an eclectic treasure. And that’s to say nothing for the respect he earns from those he treats and guides through rehabilitation.
Having worked in the USFL, two stints with the Atlanta Falcons, time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions, Olympic Games in Atlanta, Barcelona and Lillehammer, and Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia, there is plenty of context from which to draw conclusions. There’s this: student-athletes arrive less grizzled and more coddled than they once did.
“My profession has changed,” Shoop said. “I consider myself half sports medicine and half coach. It’s probably more rewarding [at the college level]. Most of the young people we work we work with are used to being at the top, being stars. They get here and they have to fight and learn to manage.
“I tell them all the time, ‘There’s a real world out there, and you’re going to have to make your own decisions.’ “
There’s so much more to Shoop than anything you see on a quick pass. Legend has it that the memorabilia in the training room – there’s a lot more than listed above – is a fraction of his stuff. If his Tech basement is a mini-museum; his home must be a Smithsonian auxillary.
Shoop been Tech’s lead triage man since 2002, and this is his second tour of duty as the Yellow Jackets’ No. 1 speed dial. He first ruled the roost – before the school had that fancy water running rehabilitation pool he helped usher into place before Tech served as ground zero for trainers in the 1996 Olympic Games – from 1987-’99.
The man has a track record for going back for more of what he loves.
And he loves his job, even if it was his second choice, even if he rises at 4:15 a.m. many days to return home after 10.
Had Shoop had his way, he’d have been an athlete. Growing up in far western Virginia, in the tiny dot of Wise, he wanted to be an athlete. He was pretty darned good at baseball, which shouldn’t be a surprise. His father, “Red” the coal miner, played long into middle age, and was a pretty fine third baseman well into his son’s adult days.
Jay wasn’t a big boy, though, and the perils of those mines complicated matters. He won’t talk about that other than to tell the story of when his father woke him one Saturday morning when he was 14, and led him deep into his father’s workplace – “all the way to the face.”
There were rats and moisture. Stuff was crumbling from overhead. It was cold and very dark when Herman Shoop said, ” ‘Now you’ve seen it and I don’t ever want you coming back.’ “
So, mining was never an option. When the games outgrew him, and Jay’s late high school football coach suggested politely that there wasn’t much room for 140-pound centers who lacked the agility to move outside and that perhaps a manager’s career would work, a change was made.
Still, Shoop held onto the idea that he would go to college to be a sportswriter. That same high school coach helped line him up with a sports medicine track at East Tennessee State University. The rest is history, and you’d love to hear his stories.
Many of them get back to his youth.
His father’s last coal mining helmet, complete with calcium carbide lamp, and Red’s last aluminum lunch pail are in Shoop’s office.
So is a great photo taken by his wife of 40 years – Anne – showing Herman and Edith from behind, holding hands, walking through a field toward a hay barn with a red metal roof.
He’ll visit soon. Dad’s 92 and Mom’s 86, and they’re still very much a part of Jay Shoop’s life.
You can tell.
“Blue collar, family, hard work, a lot of love,” he said. “That’s the way we are; that’s what I came from.”
This is a short version, I swear. I’ve given thought in recent years to becoming an athletic trainer, and Shoop’s stories haven’t dissuaded me even though the hours are long, and he said, “You’re not going to get rich.” I might disagree with Jay on that; the man is a treasure trove of stories – those related to his profession and not. Stay tuned for more about Jay Shoop in the next Buzz magazine. Comments to email@example.com.